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1.3: A Multidisciplinary Approach

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    The field of conservation biology applies scientific methods to achieving its goals. Like the medical sciences, which apply principles from physiology, anatomy, and genetics to problems of human health, conservation biologists solve biodiversity problems using principles from fields, such as mathematics, veterinary medicine, social sciences, and several natural sciences (Figure 1.3.1). Conservation biology differs from these and other component disciplines in that its primary goal is the long-term preservation of biodiversity. Unlike many other scientific fields, conservation biology can also be described as a crisis discipline (Soulé, 1985; Kareiva and Marvier, 2012). That is, conservation biologists are often required to take creative steps to respond to imminent threats, typically without a complete knowledge of the systems requiring attention. Conservation scientists must also articulate long-term visions for conservation beyond solving immediate problems.

    Figure 1.3.1 Conservation biology draws from many other sciences to protect biodiversity. It is closely related to natural resource management, which aims to manage biodiversity primarily for the benefit of humans. Integrated conservation and development projects (ICDP) are projects that manage nature for the benefit of both humans and biodiversity. After Kareiva and Marvier, 2012; Temple, 1991, CC BY 4.0.

    To be effective, conservation biologists must demonstrate the relevance of their findings to a range of stakeholders. To be successful in this task, the importance of sound scientific principles cannot be over-emphasized. Nature is a complex network of many interdependent connections and feedback loops. Science is underpinned by principles that provide conservationists the necessary quantitative and qualitative tools to better measure and control for all these different aspects of biodiversity. Such measurements allow us to gain a better understanding of complex natural systems, and the consequences of human activities. Reliable, unbiased data obtained from sound and transparent scientific methods also facilitate policy making that is too often based on value judgments by non-experts who must balance many needs and different sources of information (Ntshotsho et al., 2015).

    One of the cornerstones of modern science is to identify a hypothesis (a proposed explanation for a specific observation) to evaluate. The best hypotheses, often expressed as goals or objectives, are usually those that are SMART:

    Setting specific, measurable, realistic and timebound goals and objectives is essential for effective conservation.

    Specific: not overly general;

    Measurable: has both units and a method of measurement;

    Attainable: realistic to achieve;

    Relevant: related to what needs to be accomplished;

    Time-bound: achievable within a specific timeframe.

    Identifying SMART goals and objectives is an essential aspect of conservation biology. Without such benchmarks, practitioners cannot know whether their tasks were successful, or when management actions should be adjusted to achieve success. While this may seem obvious, many previous conservation projects have failed because biologists neglected to set SMART goals and objectives (Tear et al., 2005). While lofty, “We’re going to save all species” is not a SMART conservation goal because it is overly general, hard to measure, unrealistic, and not time bound. In contrast, “We want to protect 25% of our country’s wetlands within the next 10 years” is a SMART goal because it sets a very clear and measurable objective. In general, it is wise to set smaller short-term (e.g. quarterly), and medium-term (e.g. annual) goals as one works towards long-term (e.g. 5–10 years) objectives; this allows one to constantly assess progress, which in turn provides opportunities for celebrations and strategic adjustments as and when needed.

    Biodiversity conservation, however, is not accomplished by simply setting SMART goals, measuring outcomes, and publishing results in scientific journals and reports. It is also important for conservation biologists to engage in public outreach activities, during which they can build on the public’s existing connection to nature, help them better understand the value of biodiversity in their local area, and enable them to actively contribute in conservation projects.

    This page titled 1.3: A Multidisciplinary Approach is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Wilson & Richard B. Primack (Open Book Publishers) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.